BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The show is finally over! The international community is no longer buying the endless Turkish excuses for refusing to ratify the Protocols. Armenian officials, who naively believed that Turkey would open its border and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia, are beginning to question the Turks’ sincerity and contemplating the possibility of the Protocols’ collapse.
Now the blame game starts! Whose fault is it that the Protocols are not being ratified? In my view, the Turks are the ones to be blamed for deceiving the international community all along. It was never the intention of the Turkish leaders to carry out their publicly stated plans to normalize relations with Armenia. They were simply engaged in a ploy to obstruct what they believed to be Pres. Obama’s solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and to facilitate Turkey’s admission to the European Union (EU), since open borders are one of the key prerequisites for EU membership.
Without taking a single positive step, Turkey created the false impression of reconciling with Armenia, thereby dissuading Pres. Obama from using the term “Genocide” in his April 24 statement. Turkish leaders also succeeded in exploiting the Protocols to generate favorable worldwide publicity for their country.
During long and difficult negotiations, Turkey demanded that in return for opening the border and establishing diplomatic relations, Armenia withdraw from Karabagh (Artsakh), set up an international commission to study the facts of the Genocide, and acknowledge the territorial integrity of Turkey.
After Russia, the United States, and Europe applied intense pressure on both sides, Armenia and Turkey made a series of compromises. Armenia reluctantly agreed to establish an ambiguous “historical commission,” which was not explicitly linked to the Genocide. Armenia also had to accept a reference in the Protocols to prior international treaties that confirmed Armenian territorial concessions to Turkey, but did not specifically mention the capitulatory Treaty of Kars. Furthermore, the Protocols included a clause that called for non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states, implying that Armenia could no longer support Artsakh, because that would be construed as interference in Azerbaijan’s domestic issues.
Since the Protocols signed on October 10 did not fulfill all of Turkey’s demands, its leaders started threatening not to ratify the Protocols or open the border with Armenia until the Artsakh conflict is resolved in Azerbaijan’s favor. In other words, Turkey was trying to make up for any deficiencies in the Protocols by holding their ratification hostage to its precondition on Artsakh.
The ratification of the Protocols became even more complicated when Azerbaijan began to threaten its “Big Brother” Turkey for considering the opening of the border with its archenemy — Armenia. The Azeris wanted the Turkish blockade to continue until Armenia is forced to acknowledge Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction over Artsakh. The Azeri threat of raising natural gas prices to Turkey and redirecting some of its oil to Russia made Turkish leaders even more reticent to consummate their agreement with Armenia.
To appease Azerbaijan, Turkey demanded that Russia, Europe and the United States pressure Armenia into making concessions on Artsakh. This Turkish request, however, fell on deaf ears. The international community realized that the attempt to simultaneously resolve two thorny issues — the Artsakh conflict and Armenia-Turkey Protocols — would lead to solving neither one!
Realizing that hardly anyone outside Turkey and Azerbaijan was supporting their demands on Artsakh, Turkish leaders set their sights on another convenient scapegoat: The Constitutional Court of Armenia. Although the Court decided on January 12 that the obligations stipulated in the Protocols complied with the constitution, it also issued several clarifications and limitations that restricted the Turkish government’s loose interpretation of the Protocols.
Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu brazenly threatened to abandon the Protocols outright, unless the Armenian Constitutional Court “corrected” its decision — an impossible task under Armenian laws! The State Dept. quickly sided with Armenia, rejecting the Turkish claim that the Constitutional Court’s ruling contradicted the “letter and spirit” of the agreement. Of course, the State Department’s true intent was to forestall the Armenian Parliament from adding any reservations on the Protocols at the time of ratification.
Since the Chairman of the Armenian Parliament had already announced that he would not take any action until the Turkish Parliament ratified the Protocols first, the ball is now in Turkey’s court. The Protocols have been collecting dust in Ankara ever since they were submitted to the Parliament on October 21, 2009. The Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Turkey had stated in their joint announcement of last August that the Protocols should be ratified “within a reasonable timeframe.” Armenian officials recently reminded Turkey of that loose deadline, adding that Armenia would be forced to take unspecified counter-actions should Turkey not ratify the Protocols by February or March, at the latest!
At this juncture, neither Armenia nor Turkey is willing to back down from its recalcitrant position. Should Turkey’s leaders remove Artsakh and the Constitutional Court as preconditions, they would risk not only losing Azerbaijan as an ally, but seriously jeopardize their party’s majority in next year’s parliamentary election. Similarly, Armenia’s leaders can neither give up Artsakh nor “correct” the ruling of the Constitutional Court. No amount of outside pressure can therefore force the two governments to reverse course. That is why I believe the Protocols cannot be resuscitated!
Turkey came very close to deceiving Armenia and the rest of the world with these infamous Protocols. Fortunately, they failed before causing lasting damage to Armenia’s national interests.